The Little Plant That Could
The Adorable & Faithful Awakened Shrub & Humble Beginnings
These shrubs may be more clever than most - but they have the land speed of a gnome, no ability stat above 11 (average of 8!), and only one language (yes, it does talk) - there is little to say about this insipid CR 0 monster-plant. You will note that there are very few articles written about these humble creatures. Why? There just wasn't much to say. Until now.
What does and enchanted sapling, hedge or bush have going for it?
Time. Some trees can last for up to 5000 years or so - that's a lot of centuries. Do plants last longer if they are sentient &/or enchanted? D&D does not say. The time for a long-lived tree like the bristlecone pine shrub to grow into a 'huge' awakened tree is about 25-50 years (assuming 4" to 8" a year / your results may vary). In this time it is stronger (19 str) and tougher (15 con) - plus one whole point (!!) of charisma. How it changes after another 200 years - or twenty five centuries - we have no idea. Interestingly, a treant is also of 'huge' size - with far more firepower. How does one grow treants? No edition of D&D seems to say.
Remember that awakened shrubs are inexpensive - it comes from a common magic item. Thus one need not spend the 1000 worth of agate for the spell. Xanathar's Guide provides Pot Of Awakening as a 'common' / single-use magic item - thus costing about 25 gold to enchant. That's a steal of a deal for an intelligent friend that should outlive your local dragon.
Also remember that a Staff of the Woodlands can produce one awakened tree (or animal) per day with no risk nor cost. An level 1 druid elf can spawn a quarter million sentient trees / animals over 700 years. The 600-700 year old tree in some fantasy realms may well carry an entire elven town about - the rules do not say.
So Say Hello To Your Little Friend
Remember that this creature, once planted, is loyal so long as you treat it well (water, nice dirt, a spot near a window with the right lighting... and please: don't try to kill it). It can attune to four magic items and pick up interesting tool proficiencies. Who knows what a Wand of Magic Missiles or a hidden Helm of Telepathy could do in the right hands... or branches. As for learning any skill / tool / profession - according to Xanathar's Guide it can learn one such skill every ten weeks. That's five skills a year - if trained (25 gold per week / 1250 g.p. for those ten skills a year). If the shrub / tree wants to pay for their tutoring, working a skilled trade (at 5 g.p. per day) would take 250 days to earn a year's training. Note, trees rarely have to pay for lifestyle expenses (requiring 'dirt and water' lodgings, hopefully in the safe part of town).
Your DM may reasonably assume plants would eventually learn one non-heroic class. Logically a tree would make an excellent druid ('mastery of plants' - trees are plants) or a fair wizard ('mastery of paper' - the stuff trees are made of). Could trees gain fae patrons and become warlocks? Could they master innate magic and become sorcerers? If so, their low charisma would hurt their class function. They would make amazing fighters - especially with large weapons: giant sized creatures can easily launch ballistae and catapult shot. According to the rules, tree-armour would also be an option ('barding') - though such protection would probably be metal bits, rocks, vines and other things stuck in the tree over time (sections of blades, ingrown armour parts, forgotten bones, things left hanging in trees, etc.).
Variations On What Wood Be
The main feature of any shrub or tree is camouflage - one cannot see the trees for the forest. What other variants would make sense?
- Back in previous editions with Awaken the newly sentient being got to roll 3d6 to see what their abilities were (wisdom stayed the same, charisma only got +2d6 or so). If one assumes that the 'basic score of 10' is there to simplify D&D, then there are Woke Flora & Fauna that have much more... and much less. If the creature rolled a 3 one would presume that the spell 'did not take' and they get to roll again.
- Such trees would be masters of wizard spells. They would have spells written down on their branches and trunks in place of traditional spell books - possibly also having encoded formulae and patterns. They would be especially good at making wands, rods, staves and other wooden-wizardly wonders.
2. Sagewood - essentially a druid tree but with a few extra powers:
- The mold earth cantrip, at will. Trees usually have as much 'on top' as they do in root systems, that is a lot of dirt-manipulation. Plus, it makes more sense as they uproot and re-plant repeatedly, rapidly and without wear and tear.
- All remaining spell levels cast at midnight into Goodberries, holding this fruit on branches for 24 hours. This just makes sense for a magic tree.
- Could have some random or permanent magic fruit types listed in Tasha's Cauldron
- May have a guardian spirit: a 'fae' form of Find Familiar. It would be an animal common to the area such as a squirrel (use rat stats) or a corvid-style bird (use owl stats). One can assume this could be re-cast once per week or month if the tree wanted a new shape or if their familiar was slain. The tree would most likely have a burrow for this companion. Familiar may have intelligence of 10+ ('Woke').
- Such trees would probably plant an Awakened shrub every week or so.
3. Raezorvine / Raezorthorne / Hellberry
- According to D&D lore, these plants hail from the Abyss, this plant could have evolved since then. It could have far more leaves (to cover the nasty claw-like thorns), include wonderful flowers and have an excellent scent. Many feel that this is not too much different from some of the species of rose plants. If this plant is an omnivore, the flowers &/or fruit would be a lure for animal-based food.
- Animated versions of these need not be of any alignment despite aforementioned abyssal origins. These bushes need not be small either, large rose-bushes (thus 'not Raezorvine') grow to 9000 square feet with a single stem-group that is more than ten feet around.
- All thorny versions could use both slashing (sawing) as well as bludgeoning (constriction).
- Plants with magical fruit as listed in Tasha's Cauldron have various different effects. Once animated / 'woken' these trees should know what their fruits do.
Grafting / trimming / shaping with Speak With Plants
- Trees can use a grafting technique to get aspects of different trees. It is possible that this process could be done before being awakened.
- Note that during Speak With Plants, you can shape any vegetation however you like so long as it need not uproot itself. With Awaken, it has no magical re-shape ability (any hardwood tree would cause itself serious damage should it even try to bend its trunk, for example). Contrast this with sentient flora's ability to use their root-base as feet (which enchanted-talking plants cannot do).
- Combined, you can make nearly anything wooden and then animate a huge portion of it. For example, you could have a ship (of any size) with a 'huge' creeper-style mangrove throughout it. Now your ship could have propulsion (assuming it has one or more living rudders &/or keels), control of all moving parts (doors, sails, etc.) and even control of how much water gets in / pumps out. This ship is built a bit like a wood-plant tortoise or snail - it is grafted to a part that it needs and yet is not fully 'alive'.
The sky is the limit with properly built / 'awoken' tree-plants:
- Weapons of War: battering rams (sadly quite vulnerable to fire), siege towers, catapults, ballistae, trebuchets and anything else. The object can be any size but the moving parts or 'living-thinking engine' must be size 'huge' or smaller. Such wooden troops would be given special 'barding' plates before waking them up.
- Structures of Peace: If one wants a mobile and reasonably sized tree house with a 'huge' base-trunk, that is easily doable. Elves sometimes build entire villages into sentient mobile trees. By the rules one must use shrink-style potions &/or spells on the tree before it is awoken to get it down a notch - once enchanted, the sentient part can spring back to gargantuan+ size, approximately four times larger.
- Remember - trees can curl up to fit: using Speak With Plants one can bring quite massive trees into a 15' x 15' area that the spell requires. Once sentient and much larger, one hopes that it can unfurl over time - or perhaps Speak With Plants still works (?), even with a fully-animate plant / the rules do not say.
- Furniture For Kings: Imagine you can give the king a four poster bed that is a guardian (the 'pedestal' of such a bed would have to reach below floor-tiles to fresh dirt). One could do amazing things with one or even a group-set of throne chairs - as long as all carving was done before it was awakened.
- Wood Golems: specially designed tree-shapes to do farming, landscaping, construction and more. Logically, a well built item would be worth the 1000 gold worth of agate component as well as the asking fee. Huge versions of these tools can do the work of sixteen men, colossal versions should do the work of 64 men.
This is where i point out that the sky is the limit for types of plants. Taking a glance at worlds like the one produced by Piers Anthony - Xanth, you will see that flora can play a wonderful role in your fantasy game.
Ten Tree Tales
- A shrub circle has watched for almost a century: a Green dragon is taking over the forests and the nearby towns. Though this has been giving great peace, it has also provoked a nearby mountain kingdom sworn to destroying all creatures allied to dragons. This mountain kingdom is influenced by a family of cloud giants and is aware of the situation. Unbeknownst to either side, a group of three young black dragons are seeking to create wars so all their potential opposition wipes itself out.
- A trio of hags managed to Reincarnate, placing their souls into specially rune-encrusted trees. They are plotting a slow yet inexorable revenge on everyone, including the hag circle responsible for their demise.
- A pair of wizards placed the recipe for the Elixir of Longevity on a tree - alas, it has walked off. Players must find this tree before one or both of the wizards dies of old age.
- A cure for lycanthropy is found! It turns the various shape-changers into trees. This upsets the former friends & family as well as the packs of were-creatures (and even the sentient tree community).
- Elves have made colossal trees that each function as a village - together their wood-elf towns form a tactical might not to be taken lightly. Somehow the Drow have drugged their trees to go insane, causing mayhem. Can the antidote be found before the Drow attack-siege?
- An entire community of elves re-shaped their sentient trees into sky ships, sailing away into the Great Wind - a set of cloud cities of the wind-realms. Those elves that chose to stay behind were wiped out by orcs. They have returned seeking revenge and are hiring-creating literal storm troopers, training up other races to break the enemy ranks.
- The roots of beyond-colossal trees are now able to observe deep into the UnderDark. They have stories of what goes on - hallucinogen sniffing svirfneblin and worshippers of Eilistraee are in trouble! Getting people down there is the easy part - one curved root has made thousands of feet worth of a smooth (& fun) slide. Getting out again, well... that is a whole other question. There are some mushroom people similar to mycenoids that might help out.
- A group of shriekers were made sentient. Now they are gifted bards, able to project music with the power of bagpipes! They have figured out how to mimic the sounds of a harpy with amazing charisma and triple the area of impact. They can also stick to walls, causing entire armies to leap to their deaths. Alas, they also were corrupted by their demon lord, Zuggtmoy.
- A group of ancient, powerful and well-preserved 'fallen' paladin Oathbreakers have been reincarnated by some otherwise well meaning trees, folks that were missing key parts of history (the parts where these heroes turned out badly). Most of these guys are very happy to be back and, having seen the Abyss, are keen to have a brand-new start. Some of the nastier (and more powerful) anti-paladins see the danger of these trees that recombobulate lost heroes. So it begins...
- A Staff of The Woodlands, in tree-form, was Awoken. Sadly, this was done out of desperation as the forest was being burned by an adult brass dragon. This forest was burnt to wipe out some extremely vile gnoll druids and their sentient trees to save an industrious town that is of happy-good folk that tend to use up way too much wood. This sentient tree-staff is very upset and seeks karma / dragon-comeuppance. This staff needs to be destroyed or converted before it ruins everything.